Faster, cheaper, gone

Slate has an excellent article today about "massclusivity," the practice of selling designer clothes cheaply but in such limited qualities that only the seriously aggressive shopaholics will be able to buy them. H&M, which just opened its first San Francisco store to huge crowds, is the current queen of massclusivity.

According to the article, H&M marketing director Jorgen Andersson told Fortune that the company's recent collaboration with Stella McCartney (which sold out within half-an-hour) was "the ultimate in massclusivity," adding, "if we had these designs in the stores for a month, people would get bored."

God forbid people get bored. We're talking people who go to the same clothing store more than once a month. Maybe a little boredom would give them the idea that there's more to life than shopping.

The real problem with "massclusivity," isn't the shopping hysteria it creates or even, as Karl Lagerfeld says, that it's "snobbery created by anti-snobbery." The problem is how it reinforces the idea of disposable clothing, which is, according to retail consulting companies, the hottest fashion trend. "For the most part, the cheap chic consumer is someone who wants a top or outfit to wear two or three times," the director of one of these companies said. Quality and durability are not issues here; it's rare that people will wear the clothing long enough to wear it out.

Sweatshops don't seem to bother people either. Charles Kernaghan, director of the National Labor Committee, points out that the grim toll of "disposable clothing" is being borne by workers all over the world. Workers are constantly expected to fill big orders without being paid overtime, a problem that predates cheap chic but one that is growing as more retailers follow that model, Kernaghan told the San Francisco Chronicle. "As the system gets faster and faster, it gets more brutal."

A while ago, when I was still impressed by H&M, I an article about their labor practices. They weren't as bad as I suspected, but neither were they anything to be proud of. For now, I think I'll skip the opening of the new H&M. After all, the Stella McCarthy collection is all gone, and I would just hate to be bored.

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